The Cuban dance fusion band Los Habaneros enraptured audience members in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts’ Martinos Auditorium with a performance inspired by a mixture of genres, including salsa and jazz, last Thursday. Gerardo Contino, the band’s Havana-born director and singer, dedicated Los Habaneros’ 90-minute set to his “beautiful and complicated country.”
The band was fronted by Contino sporting gold-rimmed glasses and gelled hair. After just a few songs, the delighted audience members waved their arms and rose from their seats to dance. At one point, Contino invited a few lucky dancers on stage.
“(Los Habaneros) were so happy and carefree,” said Veronica Rigobon ’21. “I’m Latin American, so it’s everything I love about my culture, honestly.”
The concert paid homage to Havana, from which many of the band’s members hail, and New York, the band’s current base, presenting music that ranged from a vibrant rendition of the Cuban dance classic “Chan Chan” — played by the whole ensemble — to an intimate piano-driven love ballad that Contino wrote for his wife.
“It doesn’t matter if you understand (Spanish); all you have to feel is the music,” Contino said. “Tonight was magic. I saw people feel that so I accomplished my mission.”
Between songs, Contino kept the audience both entertained and reflective. Introducing his United States-born bassist, he said, “We don’t take jobs; we make jobs.”
The concert was accompanied by a talk held earlier that day at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs during which Contino spoke to attendees about his life’s trajectory. Contino grew up in a materially-deprived, blackout-ridden Cuba before becoming a law student and then moving to New York to create music with Los Habaneros, said Jessaca Leinaweaver, director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, professor of anthropology and a co-organizer of the event. Los Habaneros is the third Latin American musical group to be invited this year by the Department of Music and CLACS to stage a series of performances, workshops and public talks, she added.
“Certainly one of the most satisfying things … is seeing the huge range of people (in the audience),” Leinaweaver said, emphasizing the cultural value and sense of community these events bring to Brown.
Los Habaneros’ most recent album, ‘Los Habaneros NYC,’ is out now.